Growing up, I always wanted a pet. But our constantly changing cities deterred my parents from letting us have one. So, when I got married, I was ecstatic to move into my new home with my husband and his Indy (Indian stray) boy, Whitey. We did not know how old Whitey was, but we estimated him to be about 7 or 8 years old. He was a hefty thing, and had a really loud and scary bark!
It took time for Whitey and me to become friends. Standing in the way, apart from his scary persona and fearful stories of his past was my personal fear of dogs. That's right, I always wanted one of my own, but I was scared of approaching and petting them. But that is a thing of the past. Now I can walk up to any dog, pet or stray, one who is keen to meet humans, and make friends with them. Looking back, I attribute my fears to my lack of understanding of dogs and their behaviour.
I remember the first few months, I was scared to pet him on the head if my husband was not home. If I left the room at night, he would mildly growl at me to remind me he was still protecting his pack (read my husband) and territory (read our room). If it was not for my husband teaching me how to react to these situations I probably would not have been able to get Whitey to welcome me into his pack and had the chance to experience the abundant love and loyalty he had to offer.
Many a times it is just the ignorance of fear from parents that lead to children growing up scared of animals. Most of the people I know who are comfortable around dogs, predominantly have had the opportunity to interact with many dogs since their childhood. They become good at sensing behaviours and can understand the subtle messages that dogs give out when they are uncomfortable with certain behaviours. That is the trick to living and playing with dogs in harmony.
Although some children are natural with animals, good habits on how to behave around pets can be easily inculcated and learnt over time with an understanding of their behaviours and likes and dislikes. I hope that when I have children, they have the opportunity to be around animals of all kinds and are able to nurture habits that teach them to be not just responsible and compassionate with humans but with animals alike.
Having pets has its benefits for children too. Let me list out just a few of them for you.
1. Lets start by talking about the health of children. Contrary to common belief, research shows it that children who grow up with pets from infancy have a higher chance of having healthier childhoods, lower occurrence of infections and lower dependence on antibiotics. Even dogs that spend a large amount of their time outdoors in the dirt help improve your child's immunity, making them more robust and healthy in the long run.
2. Children who have pets at home are more compassionate and empathic in nature. Pets at home teach children to be more caring and sensitive to the needs of their pets and helps create a bond between the two that is often irreplaceable.
3. There is a huge amount of responsibility that comes with being a pet parent. I can personally vouch for that from the experience of now raising two pups, and living with three dogs. And although I do not have children to compare it to yet, looking around at the young mothers around me, I believe the magnitude of the responsibility is no less. Children in homes with pets often share this responsibility with their parents willingly. Such children grow up more involved in caring for their pets, be it taking the pets for a walk, feeding them or even caring for them when they are sick. They understand the needs and requirements of the pets, and are often more than keen to participate in tasks that involve taking care of their pets.
4. A pet adds a fair amount of exercise to ones daily routine. The walking and playing with pets, engaging them in fruitful family time and tiring them to keep them happy, relaxed and peaceful, it all takes a lot of energy. This is something not everyone realises till they get the pet home. Outdoor activities and productive play sessions with pets helps keep children healthy.
5. Children who grow up with pets have been found to be more connected and attached to their families. Spending more time together as a family is a done deal for a home with pets. My dogs are restless and keep pacing the house till they have both my husband and me in one room. It gives them a sense of security that their pack (read family) is safe when everyone is together. Thus, spending family time together interacting with pets, outdoor activities involving pets and being together in tough times, it all comes within the purview of owing a pet.
6. The hardest part of having pets is that usually their lives are far shorter than our own. That means children often have to bear the burden of losing a pet. Although a tough time, losing a dear pet teaches children to learn to cope with loss, a useful learning that will help them in future too.
The advantages of bringing up children in homes that have pets are numerous, and I have only listed the most blatant and obvious ones to me.
It is also important here for me to point here that it is the responsibility of the parents to make sure both the child and the pet are safe and comfortable in the environment they are living in. Children and pets should always be taught acceptable and unacceptable behaviour with each other. Interactions between the two should always be supervised, at least until children are old enough to responsibly handle themselves and the pets on their own. Precautions are necessary, but by no means should that come in the way of you all being a happy family.
For those of you considering pet parenthood, I recommend researching. Learn about what it involves bringing a pet home, the work, the responsibility, what you might have to give up, what extra work will there be (and believe me there is lots!). And if you feel you are not up for it at this stage, with young kids and so much work already, hold on, wait for the time that it feels right, when you are ready! Make an informed decision and not an impulsive one, and trust me, you will not regret it.